A New Breed of Slot Tournament
Technological leaps have made slot tournaments, well, fun!
By John Grochowski
Modern slot technology has made possible a new breed of tournament that can be set up in an instant, display standings in real time, stream video of entrants at the games, and immediately verify final scores.
One fun wrinkle IGT offers through Tournament Manager is a wild-card re-entry feature. If the casino operator wishes to offer the feature, the system can randomly select a player who would be eliminated by a low-scoring early round and give them a pass into the next round.
Last September, players who went through qualifiers at 77 casinos in 17 states gathered at the Palazzo in Las Vegas for Multimedia Games’ TournEvent of Champions. Maria Lindell, who qualified at Casino Grand Mille Lacs in Onamia, MN, walked away with the $100,000 top prize.
A few months earlier, Bally put on a tournament for the record books at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, CT. Using the DM tournament application on Bally’s iView technology suite, the tournament drew 3,001 entrants and was certified by the Guinness Book of World Records both as the world’s largest slot tournament and as the most machines running the same game simultaneously.
These are not tournaments as we knew them a couple of decades ago, or a few years ago, or even as they’re still run now at many casinos. Modern slot technology has made possible a new breed of tournament that can be set up in an instant, display standings in real time, stream video of entrants at the games, and immediately verify final scores.
It’s a far cry from old-style tournaments in which the casino had to either maintain a bank of dedicated tournament games that were shut down in non-tournament times, or manually change chips and reel strips so there were enough machines for all entrants to play the same game. Games had to be fitted with a tournament chip to give the high frequency of big wins that makes tournament play so exciting, then the chips had to be changed back if the machines were to be used for cash play.
Beyond that, players had to check in at a desk or with a roaming casino employee with a clipboard, and have their names and entry status verified. Modern systems can correlate entry status to players club information. Instead of an employee writing down a final score and handing a slip to the player—sometimes leading to disputes if the player thought the score was higher than the recorded info—scores are finalized electronically. If the player receives a written record, it’s a printout.
On a networked casino floor, machines anywhere in the facility can be converted for tournament play. There’s no hiding a dedicated bank of tournament games in a low-traffic corner of the casino. If the operator wants to build excitement with tournament play in a high-traffic area right in the middle of the slot floor, it’s easy to run the event and quickly convert back to cash play afterward.
At this point, use of such systems are in their infancy. One industry estimate is that fewer than 25 percent of U.S. casinos have automated tournament systems. But several manufacturers stand ready to supply systems to operators who want the capability for bigger, faster, splashier tournament promotions that once were possible.
TournEvent allows casinos to convert linked machines from regular play to tournament mode in just 10 seconds. Casinos can run tournaments at any time, any place in the casino where there are linked machines. Multimedia Games has had TournEvent products since 2009, but the continual upgrades make it something new every year. It brings standings updates in real time, has camera capability for streaming video of contestants and in the newest version has a Pop’n’ Win feature where players physically have to hit balloons or targets on the screen for additional points. Instead of just continually tapping the play button a la old style tournaments, players have to be ready with a two-handed attack when the balloons appear!
It’s been a popular format and a big boost for Multimedia Games. There are 210 TournEvent installations supporting more than 3,200 electronic gaming devices throughout the United States. And the second TournEvent of champions figures to be even bigger than the first. More than 100 casinos are participating in 2014, and there’s a guaranteed prize pool of $500,000.
Through the iView, Bally tournament games can run full-screen on machines from any manufacturer. Already, Bally DM tournaments have been run on slot machines from Aristocrat, Konami, IGT and WMS, as well as Bally. There are eight DM games designed for various tournament formats, including both video slot and video poker games.
The DM tournament system features “automated player enrollment so all the players have to do is insert their rewards card to verify eligibility. Scoring is automated, and real-time standings updates appear on game screens.
Bally has long been a leader in providing floor management systems to casinos, and so far all DM tournament installations are at casinos that use Bally systems. However, a new application called Tournament Express will soon enable casinos that use other management systems to run Bally DM tournaments.
INTERNATIONAL GAME TECHNOLOGY
If there’s a niche to be found in electronic games, you can be sure IGT will be part of it. So it goes with instant tournament, where IGT’s main product is the Tournament Manager solution. It’s a centralized web-based application that manages things both from a player perspective and from the operator perspective.
Players can enter a tournament at a kiosk or a work station with a swipe of their player rewards card. With automated setup and elimination of old-time clipboard signup, streamlining tournament play is well under way. Coming soon is iPad capability to generate entries. Near tournament times, a casino employee walks through the slot floor, asking players if they’re interested, and signing them up on the spot with a card swipe on an iPad accessory.
Tournament Manager includes tournament-optimized versions of games. So whether it’s a special tournament version of a popular IGT game such as Siberian Storm or a video poker game at a high pay table, operators can quickly change machines to display high-paying tournament-style games.
One fun wrinkle IGT offers through Tournament Manager is a wild-card re-entry feature. If the casino operator wishes to offer the feature, the system can randomly select a player who would be eliminated by a low-scoring early round and give them a pass into the next round. The random selection could be announced later in the day, before the next round begins, giving players who had weak early rounds incentive to stick around, and perhaps a second chance at some prize money.
Konami’s entry into the brave new world of modernized slot events is called True-Time Tournaments, and it’s delivered by Konami’s SYNKROS casino application suite. It uses the picture-in-picture capability of True Time Windowing, and enables tournament games to be played on the full game screen of any touch-screen enabled machine.
A Tournament Director module tracks players and manages leader boards. Casinos can create instant tournaments even at machines that aren’t in close proximity. Through a Player-on-Demand function, competitors can earn entries and play on their own timetable without being tied to specific tournament times. If the operator wishes, players can earn multiple entries and play more than once to post their best score.
A messaging system right at the machine can inform players when they’ve earned entries, using the same technology that alerts players when they’ve earned free play, meal comps or any other awards.
Once the player activates an entry, the machine immediate switches to tournament game mode. And once the entry is completed, the game switches back to normal mode and the player can continue with regular play.
The slot tournament has finally evolved into what it was always intended. No changing reel strips. No taking games out of action to change chips. No muss. No fuss. Just good tournament fun.